Monday, October 20, 2014

Leinster-25 Wasps-20

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Normally when I come away from the RDS after a Leinster victory you'd have your work cut out to make me feel badly about the result no matter how it was achieved.

It would take me at least until I watched the match on TV back at home for the blue-tinted goggles to fade and for a few errors here and a few lucky calls from the ref there to come into view.

But for some reason, yesterday was different.  Even after a comeback victory to kick off our latest European campaign, I was "proper" grumpy heading home.

Maybe it was the fact that I had to wait over half an hour for a bus heading into town?  Maybe it was because I was watching the match on the opposite side of the ground to where I usually sit and thus saw it "back-to-front"?  Or maybe it was because somebody clearly kidnapped the usual match day announcer and replaced him with Marvin The Paranoid Android?

Whatever the reason, thankfully on this occasion the TV commentary had the opposite effect, and this was mostly down to Mr Brian G O'Driscoll.

I know as well as anyone just how unfair the "agreement" between BT Sport and Sky has been for the fans who have followed this great competition for well over a decade.  How they couldn't work on some kind of package whereby we could watch all matches without having to pay full subs for both channels is beyond me.

But I must admit having BOD's views so readily available made the re-watch an absolute pleasure.  Yeah, I know my being a Leinster fan plays a big part in that but it's not all of it.  The arrival of recently retired players like himself and Shane Horgan to the punditry scene has finally brought rugby analysis into the 21st century where it belongs.

Don't worry, I'll start harping on the actual match now...what I'm doing is setting up a particular phrase Brian was using often throughout his commentary.

At first I thought he was saying "exocets", which I took to mean a particular kind of super-accurate missile-like punts, but in actual fact the term was "exit sets".  He meant pre-designed plays for when you have possession in your own 22, and he was using it as though it was a term as common to rugby players and fans as "scrum" or "knockon".

Before anyone jumps down my throat, maybe those playing the game regularly today know that phrase well, but way "back in the day" when I was able the play, the only "exit set" I knew about was the route from the pitch to the dressing room after the full-time whistle!

Anyway...the phrase did help me appreciate just how the first half went for Leinster and that despite the fact that we went in 11-20 down on the scoreboard, things weren't as dire as they may have appeared at the interval.

Maybe what really had me so grumpy was that although our attack took a while to get off the ground as I had feared going into the match, to also be leaking tries down the other end didn't augur well for our entire pool campaign let alone the opening match.

But on second look I saw how Wasps scored their points.  Pretty much all twenty came shortly after we ourselves had possession, which I know is also a bad thing (I'll get to that later), but at least it  made me feel a lot better about our defence.

I'm not quite sure how one can overthrow Devin Toner in a lineout but when Sean Cronin did it in his own 22 it fell perfectly for Ashley Johnson who brought it to the try line.  OK, maybe not the best execution of an "exit set" but at least our scramble defence was able to keep Wasps at bay and in the end for Andy Goode to be taking a penalty it wasn't the worst outcome to that situation for us.

Then ten minutes later we got a smidge of space on the wing and Rhys Ruddock made some good ground only for the support to be late and this time Nathan Hughes was the opportunist poacher and before long Wasps were getting a second kick at goal to make it 6-3.

Now, to an area where Leinster were poor.  In my preview I said it was vital that we put points on the board early.  Sure, we didn't and still won.  But that doesn't make our early approach any less of a concern.

Backing yourselves to take the ball into contact time after time is all well and good but doing it against a side like Wasps was not only playing to their strengths (even with the late withdrawal of club captain Haskell their back row were always going to be competitive) but it was also making us very easy to read, and not for the first time this season we had a pass inside poached and brought back to the opposite tryline.  That it happened so deep in the opposition half made it even more frustrating.

Noel Reid and Darragh Fanning may have been the combination to actually cause the intercept, but for me blame goes beyond the two of them and rather to the overall mindset of our offence.

Still...if there was one thing we could predict from Wasps, it was that sooner or later they would themselves make a mistake and our first try came after a curious box-kick in our half from their number 9 Joe Simpson went out on the full.

From the lineout the ball got to Jamie Heaslip who it has to be said was a man on a mission to get absolutely every single millimetre out of every single carry.  His burst exposed an overlap out wide which Gopperth was able to exploit by tempting Christian Wade off of his wing and putting the ball in behind the Wasps defence for Fanning to get the put down and finally give the home crowd something to cheer about.

Ian Madigan, who had been given the place-kicking duties, got his only miss of the day from the conversion but it did look as though Leinster were well back in this one, and the defence appeared to be getting stronger, particularly in the important area of scrambling as Noel Reid forced a vital turnover in our 22.

But after the ref awarded a penalty advantage off a Wasps lineout maul, to the visitors' credit they went to make the most of a free play and though Simpson's deflected pass off a decoy runner wasn't an infringement it did serve to throw our first up tacklers off kilter and once it got past Gopperth it took but a couple of passes to get it to Wade which created a dreaded one-on-one with Madigan, which the pacy winger will win almost every time.

And so with an impressive touchline conversion from Goode we were 8-20 down and a penalty just before halftime cutting the margin to 9 didn't do much to prevent my grumpiness from setting in as I left the Anglesea Stand for a halftime pint.
"That looks like a 9-point wind if ever I've seen one"
Instead of the "ref radio" you often find on sale at rugby grounds, maybe Leinster Rugby could start marketing a "BOD radio" whenever he's in the commentary box because if I'd heard that as the second half kicked off I would have felt a whole lot better.

And as the boys in blue went on to prove, it wasn't pie in the sky optimism either - Leinster have scored more points as matches have gone on this season and this was to be no exception.

Jamie Heaslip won man of the match and although I had my doubts when Marvin made the announcement, on watching back I could see how involved he was in pretty much everything that was working for us around the park.

Honourable mention, however, should go to Devin Toner, particularly for his multiple roles in our second try which gave us the belief to go on and win the match after what had been a slightly indifferent start to the second half.

First he smashes into Johnson in our 22 to free the ball as Wasps were threatening to put the game beyond our reach.  Then minutes later he gets to Joe Simpson in time to block a box-kick; yes, I know their relative sizes should make it easy for him but it's a harder skill than you think...scrum-halves at this level are expected to be able to get their kicks away.

Nine phases later we're deep in their 22 including charging runs from Sean Cronin and yes, Devin as well, and to provide the icing on the cake it was the giant lock who got in on a massive clearout along with D'Arcy near the line after Heaslip was tackled which allowed Fanning in for his second try of the evening.

Another shout out must go to the now beardless Darce who looked very comfortable in the 13 jumper and if Joe Schmidt is looking for the "nearest thing to BOD" for his outside centre then I suggest he looks at ways to clone Gordon in time for November! (relax, fans of Henshaw, Payne et al...I'm joking. A bit.)

On the oft-discussed topic of who plays 10 for Leinster, it wouldn't be the biggest compliment to say it was Gopperth's best outing of the season but it's still worth saying.  On top of his role in the first try, a couple of second half territory kicks into space certainly helped our cause and he easily won the outhalf battle with Goode, who could probably have done with a fit Ruairidh Jackson on the bench.

So now we're just the two points behind and it wasn't long before we were back pressing the Wasps' line.  Not only were there yet more strong carries from the likes of Heaslip and Cronin but they were being accompanied by accurate clearouts more often than not and Dominic Ryan's try, which put us in front for good, had an air of inevitability about it that was very refreshing to see.

OK, maybe it took the TMO a gagillion looks to confirm a put-down which surely was obvious after the first one (someone a couple of rows behind me shouted "Hurry up we wanna be home in time for Love/Hate!), but as the game ticked into the final quarter it suddenly looked as though a maximum five-point haul was on the cards.

Unfortunately we didn't quite have the energy to sustain the intensity which got us in front.  Maybe Wade's knock on in a tackle could have been enough to give us an extra man, but then again there were a couple of Wasps attacks which could have led to their pinching it so I suppose they kind of cancelled each other out.  Zane Kirchner, who I feel is chronically under-utilised in our offensive plays, had a couple of half-chances late on that came close but no cigar.

What probably sealed my post-match grumpiness was the reluctance of Isaac Boss, only on for the final quarter, to tap and go when we were awarded a free kick in a reasonably good attacking position as the clock ticked toward the 80-minute mark.

There was never time for a scrum and since we eventually DID tap and go courtesy of our skipper, the fact that the Wasps defence was able to set pretty much made it impossible for us to nick what would have been a very handy bonus point (not to mention it would have denied Wasps theirs).

But as I said, on the rewatch I saw many, many positives in our performance and it was great to see names like Fanning and Ryan deservedly getting on the scoresheet given our lengthy injury list.

The failure to score early is still worrying, however.  Ironically enough it was Matt O'Connor's former club Leicester Tigers's first quarter at Welford Road that resembled an output I'd like to see replicated at the RDS more often these days, though it could be argued that it can take a lot out of your players as Ulster's fightback proved.

So after further review, do I really have a beef with O'Connor despite our victory?

Let me put it this way...right now I feel pretty much the same about this win as I did the last time we opened our European season at the RDS against Premiership opposition, and this time, not only were able to score some tries, but also we don't have a team like Clérmont in our pool.

We're not playing like the second favourites the bookies had us as going into the weekend, but at least there was enough fight in us yesterday to suggest you'd be mad to rule us out.

So it's onwards to Castres next week and hopefully we can get more back from the treatment room; maybe we can actually get Luke ON the pitch this time?  Ah sorry, bit of the grumpiness creeping back...maybe a read of BOD's book later in the week will knock it out of me for good.

OK - now I need an exit set to get out of this writeup!

How about I say well done to everyone involved with Leinster for a great recovery, hard luck to Wasps and their loyal travelling support who have been through a lot in recent weeks, and finally huge thanks to Heineken Ireland for their excellent hospitality before and during the match.  

#COYBIB JLP



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Also this weekend

POSRCC POOL 2GPTPDPTS
1LEINSTER1354
2HARLEQUINS11164
3WASPS12-51
4CASTRES10-160


POSB&I CUP POOL 5GPFAPTS
1LEINSTER 'A'257308
2JERSEY243435
3CARM QUINS246534
4PLYMOUTH240602
Next matches (all times Irish)

Rugby Champions Cup

Fri Oct 24
Munster v Saracens, Thomond Park, 7:45pm

Sat Oct 25
Ulster v Toulon, Kingspan Stadium, 1pm
Bath v Toulouse, The Rec, 3:15pm
Montpellier v Glasgow, Stade Yves-de-Manoir, 5:15pm
Northampton v Ospreys, Franklin's Gardens, 5:15pm
Scarlets v Leicester Tigers, Parc y Scarlets, 7:45pm

Sun Oct 26
Castres v Leinster, Stade Pierre-Antoine, 1pm
Clérmont v Sale Sharks, Stade Marcel Michelin, 3:15pm
Benetton Treviso v Racing Métro, Stadio Comunale di Monigo, 5:15pm
Wasps v Harlequins, 5:15pm

Also next weekend
British & Irish Cup
Sat Oct 25
Carmarthen Quins v Leinster A, The Park, 2:30pm

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